Health Care Professionals Urge Pennsylvania Court to Reject License for Family Detention Facility
New York City—A group of twenty-two doctors, psychologists, nurses, and social workers last week urged the Pennsylvania Bureau of Hearings and Appeals to reject the Berks County’s appeal for the Berks County Residential Center, a family detention facility, to be relicensed as a childcare facility. The call came in an amicus brief filed in support of the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services, which refused to renew the license for the facility last year.
“This filing is a reflection of what we have long known—that detention, even for short amount of time—is harmful to children’s mental and physical health,” said Human Rights First’s Robyn Barnard. “The health professionals who signed this brief have witnessed the catastrophic impacts that detention can have on children’s long-term well-being.”
Last month a Texas judge blocked the issuance of licenses for family immigration detention facilities in Karnes and Dilley, Texas.
Human Rights First has long-documented the negative mental and physical health impacts of detention on children and their parents. Leading pediatricians, physicians, and social workers have found that detention, even for short periods of time, can lead to depression, anxiety, behavioral regressions, and suicidality in children. At present, the families detained at Berks have experienced an average of over 200 days of detention.
The amicus brief stated that “many of the children held at the detention center experience significant mental, physical, and emotional health problems, which may permanently impact their social and psychological development. These children, the vast majority of whom are seeking asylum based on persecution in their home countries, have experienced significant trauma, which is exacerbated by their detention.” Human Rights First notes that none of the three family detention centers in the United States has an operating license consistent with the requirements under the Flores Settlement Agreement.
“After just a few weeks in detention some children at the Berks family detention center exhibit ‘symptoms of behavioral regression,’ including ‘oppositional-defiant disorder, depression, anxiety, and increased aggression,’” wrote the signatories of the amicus brief. “These negative feelings and mental health problems only intensify as the length of time in detention increases. Some children have spent over 450 days in detention at the center, and others have been held in detention for almost half of their lives.”
Human Rights First reiterates its call for the Obama Administration end the harmful practices of detaining families, a practice which also violates U.S. human rights commitments. Late last year the DHS Advisory Committee on Family Residential Centers recommended that the administration end its policy of detaining children and their families.
A broad array of voices have called on the administration to end the practice of detaining families, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Bar Association, Catholic and Lutheran Bishops, and 178 members of Congress and 35 senators.
In 2015 the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) wrote to Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson calling for an end to the administration’s detention of families. They emphasized that detention, which is associated with poorer health outcomes, makes the situation worse for already vulnerable mothers and children. The AAP also questioned whether family detention facilities were capable of providing generally recognized standards of care for children.
“If… the detention center remains licensed, substantial harm will result to children within the Commonwealth,” wrote signatories of the brief.